Thursday, September 25, 2008

Bickering Be Gone — CMB Post

Originally posted on the now defunct Chicago Moms Blog.

Thing 1: "Don't Touch me."
Thing 2: "I'm not touching you."
Thing 1: "Yes you are."
Thing 2: "No I'm not."
Things 1&2: "Mo-om!"

Thing 2: "That's mine. Put it down."
Thing 1: "No, it's not. I got it at Jack's birthday party."
Thing 2: "Give it. It's mine."
Thing 1: "No, it's not."
Things 1&2: "Mo-om!"

Bickering. Brother-baiting. Driving mom bananas. Call it what you will, but I am done. D-O-N-E — done.

My two youngest boys (ages 10 and 11) are just 16 months apart and have been either best friends or worst enemies their entire lives. I used to boast that the ratio was 90/10 to the good, but lately I have felt the balance shifting as their arguments have increased both in frequency and volume.

Normally, I don't get involved in this standard squabbling fare. The rule in our house is: if he bothers you, that's too bad; if you bother me about him bothering you, that's a catastrophe. A couple of Saturdays ago, however, they woke me up with their bickering; I heard it from an entire floor away.

I now freely admit to you that the consequence my children suffered that fateful morning was stolen from my best friend, who learned it from a grandma type a few years ago when her kids were bickering in public. The basic premise is this: if you have time to bicker, you have time to clean.

The simple eloquence of this consequence should not be underestimated. Instead of blowing my stack over having been so rudely awakened, I simply got up, got dressed and got busy. I explained very calmly to the two rowdy culprits that I was wide awake (thanks to them) and had a lot of work to do, and since they had time to bicker, they had time to clean.


"You heard me. Get dressed and eat some breakfast. We've got work to do."

Over the course of the next couple of hours, Thing 1 picked up all the rotten crab apples in the back yard, took the dog for a long walk and watered the flowers. Thing 2 emptied the dishwasher, took out the garbage and recycling, and helped me fold three loads of laundry. "Folding laundry is boring," he informed me. Really? We have six people in this household and I do laundry every day. Don't tell me about boring.

While the boys delivered folded clothing around the house, I hit upon a stroke of genius (she says humbly). "Put on your bathing suits and meet me in the bathroom," I said. Armed with scrub brushes and a short demonstration, I put one of them into each of our two shower stalls and set them to work, telling them to call me when they thought they were done. After a few false starts, they did a great job and finished off the exercise by taking a shower and washing their hair. Everything and everyone was clean and shiny.

Call it indentured servitude if you must — ransoming their freedom for a little peace and quiet and a couple of clean bathrooms — but it worked. We got a lot done that morning and they played together beautifully for the rest of the afternoon. I can't wait for their next argument. I think we'll clean the closets.

This is an original post to Chicago Moms Blog. When Susan isn't forcing her children into slave labor, she posts on her own blog,Two Kinds of People, and has recently started The Animal Store Blog for her family's pet shop in Lincolnwood, IL. She hopes to find away to put the dog to work soon.

Photo credit: Cleaning by Bies.

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Bothered by bickering? Frustrated by family feuds? At your wits end over arguments? Check out my new post, Bickering Be Gone, on the Chicago Moms Blog.

Photo credit: Cleaning by Bies

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Night and Day

My candle burns at both ends
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends —
It gives a lovely light.
Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950)
There are two kinds of people in the world: morning people and night owls. 

When I was a kid, my mother let us extend our bedtime by 15 minutes each year. As a consequence, I came to believe that by the time you were an adult, you didn't need to sleep at all. This would explain four sleep-free years at college (well, this and lots of No-Doz and even more diet Pepsi).

I used to hate going to sleep at night. I loved pushing past the point of no return to finish a book — even a lousy book. I loved late-night TV — talk shows, bad movies and infomercials. I loved hanging with dormmates or roommates or friends and solving all the problems of the world before dawn.

As a working woman, I would still push the envelope. In an office, you need merely to be polite and professional in the morning, not necessarily friendly. After a few hours and a little caffeine, everything would be all right again.

Then came children. It should be illegal, or at least biologically unfavorable for a night owl to give birth to morning people. Three of my four offspring, however, are morning people and one of the little mutants is known as the "Crack-of-dawn Boy." 

You can't get by with simply grunting at your children in the morning. You have to be awake. And pleasant. And ready to go. You don't get weekends off. There are no holidays from these morning people. There they are, every day, little faces hovering over you as you sleep, whispering anxiously: "Mama, are you awake?" 


"Now are you awake?"

The only human in this bunch would sleep to a reasonable hour if it weren't for the fact that the poor bugger shares a room with Crack-of-dawn Boy. No matter how much COD Boy is threatened by the late sleeper or me, he just can't seem to resist waking up his brother. 

My children have forced me to adopt a semi-pleasant morning outlook. I no longer hit the snooze button 75 times before I finally drag myself out of bed. I have learned by rote to smile and say "good morning". I have developed a reasonably effective routine that keeps me from killing anyone before 8:00 a.m. And I do it all without caffeine. 

But I have not trained myself to go to bed at a regular, reasonable hour. Instead I have developed a schizophrenic cycle of pushing myself to ridiculously late hours three or four nights in a row, and then having to crash by 8:00 p.m. for the next two or three nights. 

Van Gogh said: "I often think that the night is more alive and more richly colored than the day." Of course, he cut off his ear and committed suicide.

I know I get my best, most creative work done at night. Perhaps there are fewer distractions. Maybe I have come to think of the night as my time. Maybe it's just a bad habit. But if you find yourself fighting insomnia, send me an email. Three or four nights a week, I'm likely to respond.

Let me know if you are a(n) annoying, perky, pain-in-ass morning person or a normal, creative, interesting night owl by clicking here. In the meantime, it's 1:10 a.m., so before I cut off something important, I'd best get to bed.

If you're still awake, check out this truly angsty interpretation of Cole Porter's classic Night and Day by U2:

Photo credit: Thot nigth by Gian-boy via

Friday, September 12, 2008

Assuage Any Trouble

"I've never known any trouble that an hour's reading didn't assuage." — Charles De Secondat (1689-1755)

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who love to read and those who don't. I don't remember learning how to read. In fact, I don't remember not knowing how to read. 

I do remember the feeling of power that reading gave me — the power to travel, to explore, to learn, to laugh, to escape. The power to be someone else. The power to imagine. It seems this essential skill has always been imbedded deep in my brain cells, due in no small part to my mother, the librarian, who read to us generously from our earliest days and gifted us with her own love of reading.

I have been a flashlight-under-the-covers reader for as long as I can remember, and I have only recently given myself permission to stop reading a book I don't like. Like my mom, I love reading to my kids. The big kids and I are slowly working our way through the final Harry Potter book. It has taken forever, not because we aren't enjoying it, but because it's hard to find time with teenagers and none of us is willing to let one of the other two get ahead in the story. I'm on my second time through the Rowling series, this time with the little boys, and we are nearly finished with book four. I love that this woman had kids waiting in line to buy her books.

I'm not a fast reader; I read one word at a time, which has limited the number of books I have been able to absorb, but greatly enhanced my enjoyment of the ones I have read. I was delighted this summer to discover that "close reading", the way I do it, is a virtue according to Francine Prose (isn't that a perfect name for a writer?) in her passionate exploration of words, sentences and paragraphs called Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and Those Who Want to Write Them.  

Have you ever walked into the library or bookstore and been totally overwhelmed by the number of possibilities? If you're looking for some guidance, check out the 2008 edition of Field-Tested Books. This Chicago publication contains 143 short (300-500 word) reviews from more than 90 contributors. The question asked of each reviewer was how their perception of a book was affected by the place in which it was read (or vice versa). The online counterpart has even more (and longer) offerings. Let me know what you discover.

Given the surfeit of reading materials — more than 190,000 US book titles published each year, thousands of magazines and countless Web pages — I'd like to thank you for spending some of your reading time on my blog. 

I'm also excited to announce that I have been invited to be a contributing author on Chicago Moms Blog, a collaborative group of moms writing about their lives in Chicago. I will be submitting to this site twice a month and my first post, Lousy Lice, went up today. I look forward to your feedback. Check the sidebar for an updated list of where you can find my writing elsewhere on the Web.

Read — for pleasure, read to your kids, read to learn something new or just to escape. Read to assuage your troubles. And as always, I look forward to your comments — just click here.